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Iceland Speaker focused on mutual concerns and political structures

Underscoring the excellent state of bilateral relations, BGIPU hosted an inter-parliamentary visit from the Icelandic Parliament (Althingi) led by Speaker Mr Einar K Gudfinnsson (Independence Party) from 29 February 2016. The delegation was also included Second Deputy Speaker and Chair of the Icelandic delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly Mrs Thorunn Egilsdottir (Progressive Party), Former Minister of the Interior Mr Ogmundur Jonasson (Left-Green Movement) and Former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Industries Mr Ossur Skarphedinsson (The Social Democratic Alliance). They were accompanied by Iceland’s Ambassador to the Court of St James Mr Thórdur Aegir Óskarsson and his Deputy Head of Mission Atli Már Sigurðsson.

The visiting delegation asked to focus on the political system in Westminster including the work of both chambers, political parties and devolved regions, as well as areas of mutual and regional concern. On the first day of the visit the focus was primarily on the UK Parliament processes and procedurtes folowing an official greeting by Mr Fabian Hamilton, Treasurer of the BGIPU, Former Chair of the Iceland APPG and Shadow Foreign Minister.  The delegation had the opportunity to meet various key figures in the UK Parliament to learn more about UK parliamentary procedures, starting with the Lord Speaker Baroness D’Souza, then Leader of the House the Rt Hon Christopher Grayling MP followed by Shadow Leader of the House Mr Chris Bryant MP.

The delegation had a very productive working lunch discussing climate change and the environment attended by Mr Stuart Donaldson MP, Baroness Featherstone, Lord McColl of Dulwich and Mr Graham Stuart MP, with an emphasis on renewable energy, which Iceland uses for 100% of its energy needs. In the afternoon the delegation met with the APPG on the Polar Regions, led by their Chair Mr James Gray MP to discuss regional trade opportunities, possible export of Icelandic energy, Chinese and Russian involvement and the role of the Arctic Council. Mr Jeremy Corbyn MP, Leader of the Labour Party, and Mr John McDonnell MP, Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, discussed his party’s working dynamics with the delegation before Mr Nigel Evens MP, Chair of the British Group IPU, hosted a welcome reception.

On 1 March, Mr Fabian Hamilton MP provided a comprehensive tour of the Palace of Westminster, followed by a meeting with Mr Paul Flynn to discuss Wales and its representation in Westminster. Mr Stephen Gethins MP of the Foreign Affairs Committee, where discussions focused on Syria, the refugee crisis, and the cultural connections between Iceland and Scotland. Mr Angus Robertson MP, Leader of the Scottish National Party in Westminster, met with the delegation and spoke about Scotland’s devolution as well as how the SNP worked in Westminster and EU membership.

A well-attended APPG/BGIPU working lunch was hosted by Lord Craigavon, and enabled bi-lateral dialogue outside the meeting topics and formats, and was followed by a meeting with Lord Soley of the Lords EU Home Affairs Sub-committee to discuss their recent report ‘EU Action Plan against Migrant Smuggling’. Mr Speaker, the Rt Hon John Bercow MP then met with the Icelandic Speaker and delegation for an opportune exchange including role and priority comparisons, particularly regarding the fact the Icelandic Speaker can participate in debates. The last meeting on Tuesday was with Mr David Lidington MP, Minister for Europe, involving UK regional interests and the referendum on EU membership, with focus on each political party’s position. The delegation departed London on Tuesday evening to travel to Cardiff for separate meetings hosted by the Speaker of the Welsh Assembly.